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Captain America (1979)
For a 70s TV movie...
I basically went into this movie thinking, "Ooof. This is going to be really bad." I felt that way mainly because of the motorcycle helmet Captain America wears, although the rest of the suit seems pretty faithful.
It looks like this movie did what the Hulk series did: Change the story of the comic to fit the parameters of a television budget. And for the most part, it did this very well.
It's hinted that the Captain America from the comics is basically the father of the star of this film. Although this sounds like a very cheesy and very bad idea, the actors and the dialogue convey this point in a believable and credible fashion. So this is definitely one of the film's strong points.
The story involves the death of a friend and the detonation of an atomic bomb, but those are more like entertaining plot devices since I found the story to be mostly an origin story, showing how Steve Rogers is slowly led to his destiny to become Captain America. The film wisely focuses on this and the interaction of the actors, and this is where the film's strength lies.
Reb Brown is a good Captain America, but for me, I found it a pleasure to watch Len Birman as Simon Mills, the government official who assists Captain America. To my knowledge, this Simon Mills character does not exist in the comics, (though I can't be sure since I never really read the Capt. America comics), but I really enjoyed watching Len Birman's sincere performance. He was the most interesting character in the movie, and he could be the reason I enjoyed the film so much.
The first 15 minutes of the movie are kinda laughable. You might find yourself wondering why you're watching this, but I think it will reward the patient (and forgiving) viewer. You'll have to wait for a few minutes before the movie settles into its own.
It's not as good as the Hulk pilot, but it's in the same mold. Or if you've seen the live-action Spiderman TV series, you get more of an idea of what to expect.
Worth a look for comic fans.
Rocky Balboa (2006)
Surprise and relief! Rocky Balboa is a winner
Stallone did it.
I went in cringing and walked out impressed.
The tone was closer to the first two Rocky movies, but it did it in a way that the fifth movie wasn't able to grasp. One key ingredient: verisimilitude.
They treated the boxing in the film the way boxing is in real life. I know, because I covered and followed the sport very closely for about three years.
Real life boxing personalities pepper the film's cast. For the fight scene, they got the current HBO announcing team of Jim Lampley, Larry Merchant and Max Kellerman.
They treated the build-up to the fight not unlike movie audiences are treating Rocky Balboa the movie: What, another Rocky movie/fight? There is some reminiscing of the past like in Rocky 5, but it's handled much better. It flows naturally from Rocky the character. It's not nostalgia for the sake of nostalgia the way some of Rocky V played out. In fact, I got choked up quite a few times throughout the film.
The writing is excellent. The monologue from the first Rocky teaser, that some people criticized, shows up in this movie. It plays WAAAAAAAAAAAY better, more powerfully, with more emotional resonance in the context of the movie. The teaser didn't do it justice. The movie does.
If you're a Rocky fan, you have to see it. If your girlfriend/boyfriend aren't Rocky fans or have never seen a Rocky movie, you have to take them.
My 19-year-old girlfriend thinks she has seen Rocky but only as a little girl, so she had a vague, if any, recollection of the series. So vague, in fact, that she even told me that Stallone the actor looked "familiar". And she loved the movie. She cheered, and when the fight started, she told me, "I'm so nervous!" In the end, she also loved the character of Rocky, proving to me that the character's appeal--despite his age and several decades removed from his debut---is still undeniable.
Stallone was great in the role, of course. This is obviously the part he was born to play.
Burt Young is great as Paulie. He gave a nice supporting performance with the right touch of humor.
I was impressed with Antonio Tarver as Mason Dixon. Tarver, as some of you might know, is a real fighter. In fact, I saw him fight once in Miami. He turned in a good performance, which I wasn't expecting since he's an athlete, not an actor. So Tarver deserves a nod.
The movie is inspiring---the winning quality in all Rocky movies.
Now don't get me wrong: I'm not claiming this is Rocky I all over again. This is the sixth movie in what was a tired series when we last saw it, but Stallone breathed new life into it and it's definitely a deserving addition to the Rocky series.
Lastly, there's a moment in the theater that I really, really want to share with you guys. Don't worry, it has nothing to do with the end.
The movie audience was pretty quiet throughout the first half. But when Rocky starts training to the Rocky theme, the crowd came alive and began cheering and clapping. I saw one guy throwing punches during the fight. Another guy was stomping on the ground from what I imagined was excitement of the fight, and nervousness.
I'm not sure Stallone could've made a better part 6 than this.
The 2 hours just ZIPPED by
I went into a screening of this film cold. I didn't know anything about it except that it starred Julianne Moore. I walked by a poster of the film on the way into the theater and was horrified, thinking it was going to be a chick flick.
Well, folks. When I go into a theater and I can't take my eyes off the screen and the movie goes by without me ever even checking my watch, I know I've seen a good movie.
Moore plays a woman with 10 children. Although her husband works as a machinist, she basically provides for the family by winning all sorts of contests for all kinds of big prizes, including big cash prizes. The woman is a master of winning these things. It's the one thing that's keeping her family together. She's definitely the hero and the one person everyone looks up to. Definitely an inspiration. I don't want to spoil anything, so I'll stop at that, but I will say that Moore does a great job with her role.
Moore's husband in the movie, played by Woody Harrelson with emotional conviction and healthy dose of humanity, has a drinking problem and is a big source of tension inside the household. To the movie's credit, it doesn't paint the father as the typical one-note, evil, hateful,abusive, drunken father. There's a real character in there who loves his wife and kids and the movie does its best to portray him as fairly as possible despite his drinking problem and fits of rage.
The movie does bring out strong emotions from its audience, not quite a tear-jerker but close. It's not the sort of movie I would watch again and again because it's not my type of film, but I was glad for having seen it.
There's good acting, good pacing, a good story and possibly most important of all, it is told in an entertaining, gripping fashion. I wouldn't be surprised to find out if there is an Academy Award nomination in store for Julianne Moore and Woody Harrelson.
At the end of the movie, there was a nice round of applause from the audience. I told one lady, "Wow, the two hours just went..." and I snapped my fingers. She said, "It just zipped by." I also heard several different people talking as I left the theater, "Did you like it?" "Yeah, it was great."
Go see it.
The comparison to Sleuth, the earlier stage-play-turned-film, is obvious and upon my first viewing I too thought Sleuth was better, but Deathtrap has, at least for me, many more repeat viewings in it than Sleuth.
I purchased Deathrap in the bargain bin at Wal-Mart, figuring that it had Caine and the underrated Reeve and was worth the 6 bucks. It was one of the finest DVD purchases I could've picked up.
It's one of those best-kept-secrets that movie buffs always are always delighted to discover. And it's totally worth repeat viewings.
Though Laurence Olivier and Michael Caine turned in bravado performances in Sleuth, I was doubly impressed with Christopher Reeve as Clifford Anderson. Reeve, rightfully associated with his now legendary portrayal of Superman, stole the show in what should've been an Oscar worthy performance. I've always felt Reeve was a type-cast actor who didn't get much of a chance to shine outside of the Superman films and a few other flawed but entertaining films like Somewhere in Time, but this film shows that his potential was truly tapped and put to use, thank goodness.
I absolutely relished Michael Caine's performance. He was glib, deliciously manipulative and sadistic. And watching him work with Reeve and Dyan Cannon was an absolute pleasure. In fact, it was thanks to this movie that I got into a "Michael Caine phase" and started renting as much of his stuff as humanly possible.
As for Deathtrap, there's enough juicy dialogue in here to fill up its "memorable quotes" section. (Unfortunately, much of the dialogue would inherently spoil the immensely entertaining plot).
It's really, really hard to talk about the movie without spoiling important plot points that are infinitely more fun to discover on your own. Needless to say, it's a must-see. But for me, it was the greatest and most rewarding blind purchase of all time.
Repeat viewings are a must.
And it deserves to sit alongside Sleuth on your DVD shelf.
I'll leave you with this beautifully written quote from the film: "I wonder if it wouldn't be...well...just a trifle starry-eyed of me to enter into such a risky and exciting collaboration...where I could count on no sense of moral obligation...whatsoever."
The Phantom (1996)
A pleasant surprise
This 100-minute nugget of superhero charm was a lot more fun than I had expected. I subscribe to Netflix, the mail-in rental service, so I had forgotten which movie I had coming next. I groaned slightly when I saw The Phantom was it.
I started watching, feeling that I was going to be in for a dud. About a week ago, I rented The Rocketeer---a mildly entertaining movie with some good moments, but didn't really add up to a DVD purchase or repeat viewings. I thought I was in for more of the same, but alas.
The Phantom had all the charm, action and humor missing from Rocketeer.
I particularly enjoyed the two leads. Billy Zane delivered the one-liners with aplomb. He has the swagger, voice, demeanor and charm to carry the role successfully. He transcends a rather mundane superhero outfit. Treat Williams gave an amusing turn as the villainous Xander Drax, ("Starts and ends with X.") Not the typically evil superhero nemesis, he's more of a lighthearted villain in the "Gene Hackman as Lex Luthor" mold, but his line delivery is spot on.
The movie definitely comes alive with the characterizations, a feel of a time and place early in the 20th century, and always on the move, but not too much in a hurry to make you enjoy these characters. I rather liked the idea of a superhero with a pet horse and wolf.
I'm not sure I've seen a recent superhero film that strikes a perfect balance of action, humor, sets and characters. Enough humor to keep me smiling throughout, but mildly serious enough to engage me for the duration.
Definitely worth a look for those who haven't seen it, and a future addition to my DVD collection.
The Grudge (2004)
Best if you wait until somebody else rents it
The movie starts off with an intriguing scene with Bull Pullman, and with few exceptions, is all downhill from there.
I certainly didn't expect much from it, but I did expect a few good chills and an entertaining movie. The Grudge is all eye candy and false bravado, and while I'm all about the eye candy, I usually want an entertaining and engaging horror film to match. I didn't find it here. I knew I was in trouble when the old noise-turns-out-to-be-a-cat routine happened relatively early in the film.
There are some cool effects, but they don't make the movie worth paying for. Throughout the film, I felt like the movie was made for people who haven't seen many scary movies.
I liked The Ring. Forgive my ignorance, but I believe Grudge was made by the same people. And while The Ring had more than its share of glaring flaws, it was still very entertaining. Not Grudge.
The movie did manage to create enough of a creepy backstory to keep you watching until the very end. The end arrives and I was left with the feeling that there was definitely a good story in here somewhere, but the result was very unsatisfying. It just wasn't worth my time.
Equilibrium: A Matrix wannabe?
Well, that's what I thought of when my friend gave me a belated Christmas gift in the form of a few DVDs, one of them being Equilibrium.
Prior to seeing the film, I had seen a couple of pictures of Equilibrium somewhere and I remember Christian Bale and Taye Diggs wearing some decidedly Matrix type clothes, carrying two guns at the same time and then there were people who I heard talk about the fight scenes being as good as those in Matrix or something to that effect.
So I put this DVD in my DVD player, thinking this is probably one of those Matrix ripoffs, but that it will be worth watching for the cast and that it'll be good popcorn fare...but not much else.
But I was surprised that there was a very good sci-fi story in this movie that had me hooked early on. If there were any Matrix similarities to Equilbrium, story-wise, I was not aware of them as I watched the movie. There was a really good story, and very good performances. I thought Christian Bale, Taye Diggs, Sean Bean and Emily Watson were all good. I don't recall seeing Angus Macfadyen before, but I thought he was quite good. I feel like I discovered a new, talented actor, not to mention a new director in Kurt Wimmer.
Unfortunately, the movie DOES have some glaring faults. In a society with no emotion, a few of the actors DO smile. So I thought to myself, huh? One character even has an angry, loud outburst. So I wish there was more consistency here. Do they express emotion or don't they? Fortunately, it happens only a few times and you can let it slide, but ultimately, it still feels sloppy.
The ending also had me quite befuddled on one issue, which I won't go into in case anyone wants to see the film and hasn't. (In fairness, maybe it's one of those "You have to see the movie twice" type deals.)
Anyway, it's an entertaining film with a good story about emotions vs. no emotions, but its faults are notable enough to keep the movie from becoming a true classic. And if you're wondering whether to rent it or not, definitely rent it. Despite its flaws, I'm glad it's in my collection...and I *am* picky when it comes to sci-fi.
Circle of Iron (1978)
Artsy martial-arts film with a heart
My expectations were low. I totally expected cheesy, surrealistic 70s fare. In turn, I was faced with one of the more rewarding martial-arts movies I've ever seen, and I've seen quite a few.
There are fight scenes, but the movie uses them as a tool towards a deeper, more enlightening meaning.
First of all, I liked the decision to set this movie in an ambiguous time and place.
Jeff Cooper, as Cord, is really the hero of this mystical martial-arts adventure, not David Carradine as I had expected. Cooper's performance really grew on me as the movie went on. I found him easy to relate to, as well as root for. He plays a tough guy who seeks a man who possesses a book that has the knowledge of the universe.
Sounds hokey, but if you go with it, it really works. The movie has a certain mystique---as all good fantasy does---that kept me intrigued. There's wonderful music, the performances are sincere, the locations beautiful, and the story has something besides the quintessential martial-arts-revenge-action-till-you-drop fare.
It's a thinking man's martial-arts film.
Carradine plays several roles, including that of The Blind Man with the silent flute. He fills each role effectively and believably. Sometimes his blind man philosophy is puzzling and my reaction mirrored Cord's: Huh? But it all works itself out in the end.
Speaking of the ending, I was RELIEVED that this movie didn't sell out at the end. There was no Pulp Fiction suitcase, or the lesser known suitcase at the end of Ronin. The movie TELLS you what's inside that mysterious book. But be cautious that you don't focus too much on the book when you watch it, I'd recommend just going with the movie. As Bruce Lee said in Enter the Dragon, "Don't think, feeeel. It is like a finger pointing the way to the moon. Don't concentrate on the finger or you will miss all the heavenly glory." Definitely recommended if you're in the mood for something a little meatier and philosophical in your martial-arts films.
The Ewok Adventure (1984)
Great entertainment for all
I bought the DVD, feeling that the nostalgia of watching this when I was 9 with my little sister was worth the 10 bucks. I even joked with a young couple at the check-out counter, (who remembered the movies), about how we all liked it as kids.
What I didn't expect was that the movie would hold up after all these years, and mind you, I haven't seen this since the mid or late 80s.
A lot of movies we liked as kids age badly due to the fact that we all grow up. But I found The Ewok Adventure, now called Caravan of Courage, to be just as exciting, fun and charming at 29 as I found the film when I first saw it 20 or so years ago when it debut. I think that's a compliment given to only the very best of films.
There is some, (not all), stop-motion animation special effects that have aged to be sure, but that is to be expected of a made-for-TV movie with a decidedly less expensive budget than the actual Star Wars films. Most of the time, I was impressed that the Star Wars magic extended beyond the big screen and onto a TV movie.
When Return of the Jedi came out, I was like a lot of other hardcore Star Wars fans: I didn't like the seemingly overused furry creatures. I wanted more Han Solo and Darth Vader and lightsaber battles. I've lightened up on the little guys, but I don't think hardcore Star Wars fans have anything to fear though. I found the Ewoks to be even more endearing, brave and charming in their own adventures, which play off as a kind of Goonies: Star Wars style.
Above all, I recommend this movie to anyone because it's one of those special films, (like the original Star Wars movies themselves), that entertain adults and kids. The film has great characters, has a very fast pace, has a good story and is nicely acted. In other words, it's a winner.
And for 10 bucks, I don't know that I ever spent 10 bucks as well as I did when I picked up this DVD---which also features the sequel that I can now see for the first time. Definitely worth watching and buying.
Coffee and Cigarettes (2003)
An uneven combination of wet paint and amusing conversation
I like Independent movies. I like Jim Jarmusch. I really like that cast. And I really do enjoy coffee and cigarettes. So imagine my disappointment when I saw Steven Wright and Roberto Benigni struggling to improvise dialgoue in what was, amazingly, Jarmusch's choice for the opening act.
I took an acting class about 5 years ago, and this is exactly what the people in my class were doing. Improvising dialogue about nothing. And it shows. I cringed when I saw Wright and Roberto try to humor us by changing seats. This is why I went to acting class, so I wouldn't look this inept on the stage or on film.
With two or three exceptions, the rest of the vignettes in this 90-minute-or-so film are like watching paint dry.
I was particularly looking forward to Bill Murray's bit, but there wasn't very much for him to work with. Even a talented woman like Cate Blanchett can't do anything with her scene. It's overlong and loses interest a few minutes in.
Only two vignettes were worth watching: Iggy Pop and Tom Waits; and the best of the bunch: Alfred Molina and Steve Coogan. Molina runs away with the movie, (if it can even called that since it's basically a cadre of unrelated skits stringed together).
I think the idea for this film was a good one. But unfortunately, the conversation pieces in the skits are boring, consisting mostly of actors staring at each other while smoking a cigarette, drinking coffee and desperately trying to think of something meaningful or funny to say.
At one point, two men with French accents are having coffee and one is trying to extract information from the other. "What's wrong?" man #2 asked. "Nothing is wrong," replies man #1. And they go on like this for something like 10 minutes. You can tell Jarmusch didn't give any other direction except to tell man #2, "Try to find out what's wrong." and then tell man #1, "Don't tell him what's wrong. No matter what." These are like lessons in Acting 101.
It's more like a student film than something you should pay $20 or so to buy on DVD. If you rent it, I suggest watching the Iggy-Waits scene and the Molina-Coogan scene. Sure, give the movie a shot, but if you get up in arms, look for Iggy and Molina. If I had a DVD burner, I'd grab those two skits to keep. I highly advise against a blind purchase.
Rear Window (1998)
Reeve's best role in years
While nobody expected this to be anywhere near as good as Hitchcock's classic, I found the film surprisingly engrossing.
Some people might say Reeve didn't stretch his abilities, but I would argue that he still convinced me that he was Jason Kemp. Reeve's character is absolutely helpless, whereas Jimmy Stewart could still use his arms, and this made Reeve's character all the more vulnerable. It made for a more suspenseful, edge-of-your-seat film.
I've read that this film was simply a showcase for the gadgets that Reeve uses to live life, but I think that's an unfair criticism of a thoroughly enjoyable, not to mention educational, film.
The rest of the cast provides solid support, but it's Reeve's show all the way. I'm glad the accident didn't keep him away from acting. He's always been an underrated actor, except as Superman, so it's good to see a different role provide him with a high profile opportunity to showcase his acting ability. (If you're curious about Reeve's other great roles, I'd definitely check out Deathtrap, where he stole the show from Michael Caine and Dyan Cannon.)
Gekitotsu! Satsujin ken (1974)
Become a NUMBER ONE MAN!
Sonny Chiba is one of the very few martial-arts stars that has escaped Bruce Lee's shadow and this film shows you why. Though he wears dark clothes and is shirtless, (just like Lee), during some of the fight scenes, he still comes across as an original.
He's got screen presence to spare and his deadpan approach to the exaggerated violence and fight scenes makes this funny and a totally awesome guy movie with lots of blood, gore and fighting. The one thing that I thought was strange was the throaty, phlegm-sounding war-cry that Chiba and other karate masters use throughout the film, but even that grows on you.
I was inspired to watch this film when I saw short clips in "True Romance". The fight scene looked original, so I gave it a shot. Loved it.
How can you go wrong when the star of the films utters lines like, "Maybe some day we can hold a death match." and, after punching a guy in the back, "You'll be unconscious through lack of oxygen; it's an ancient technique."
And I really dig the roly-poly karate master who goes on to teach Chiba's character a few new things about fighting. How many times do you get to see an obviously overweight character show that being overweight doesn't prevent you from kicking ass?
The character of Ratnose does get overbearing after a while, but it's a small price to pay to watch Chiba play one of the coolest anti-heroes of all time.
"Become...a number one man!" and rent this movie. Pure 70s martial-arts cheese and ass kicking.
The third is the best of all
I was not a huge fan of Fellowship of the Ring when I first saw it. The Two Towers was an improvement, though I still could not figure out why so many people were putting these films on such a pedestal. Since then, the two films have grown on me and I was actually psyched to see Return of the King.
It proved to be the best of the lot. The movie was long, but it didn't feel long. The action, characters and storylines are now more familiar to me than when I first saw Fellowship and Return of the King proved to be an entertaining and rewarding experience.
The acting, as with the previous entries, is excellent. The dialogue is crisp. The special effects, mindblowing. And the storytelling, though sometimes confusing, is for the most part captivating.
Frodo's approach to the fiery pit of Mount Doom probably ranks as the trilogy's single best sequence.
Much has been said about the movie's number of endings. I think they were appropriate and welcome groups of epilogues.
Because a lot of the moviegoing public is on a Lord of the Rings high, not a whole lot is said about the trilogy's flaws. And just like in the previous entries, this film has its share.
For one, there has been some talk about a homoerotic chemistry between Frodo and Sam in the previous films. Well, you ain't seen nothing yet. There were times where I thought Frodo and Sam were perfectly capable of planting a big wet one on each other's lips and declaring their love for one another. Imagine Han Solo stopping in the middle of the Death Star to proclaim his feelings for Luke Skywalker and you get the idea. Merry and Pippin have similar scenes. It was just too distracting. There's also a lot of crying in this film. But to the film's credit, Peter Jackson somehow makes it work.
I was also disappointed there were not more scenes of wizardry and magic. A lot is said about how the Lord of the Rings trilogy blows away the Star Wars prequels with its use of special effects. I have to say that while that is true to a degree, some of what is up in Return of the King looks like CGI. Sometimes, though rarely, horribly so.
Viggo Mortensen, for me, steals the show as Aragorn. He's kinda like the Lord of the Rings version of Han Solo, but more fleshed out. He's tough, cool and a lady's man, but there's room here for more human characteristics.
Ian McKellan's performance as Gandalf ranks right up there as well. The other characters, like Gimli and Leogalas, have become loveable and kind of like old friends. We're glad to see them and glad to see their competitive friendship in the heat of battle.
Finally, I was really concerned when I heard that Christopher Lee's scenes were deleted. I still say that was a mistake, but it was not nearly as distracting as I thought it would be.
This was a great, satisfying way to end the trilogy and, for once, the third film is the best film.
Jing wu ying xiong (1994)
Perfect example of a needless remake
I sat down to watch this remake of "Chinese Connection" with great interest. I'd heard it was superior to the 1972 classic film , but I was disappointed. Chinese Connection was the superior film by far.
I believe Fist of Legend, as all movies, should be judged on its own merits. But for me, making that distinction was simply impossible since Chinese Connection is ingrained in my psyche as well as in cinema history. It's like critiquing a remake of Dirty Harry with someone other than Clint Eastwood. You just can't review one without comparing it with the other.
Jet Li is effective in the lead, but unfortunately for Li, this is a remake of one of Bruce Lee's best movies. And Jet Li has neither the intensity, charisma or screen presence that Lee had in the role. And because it is a remake of one of the genre's most beloved films, the movie can not escape the memory of the original, nor can it escape Bruce Lee's ghost, which hovers prominently over the entire film.
Jet Li's fight sequences are entertaining to watch, but lack the verisimilitude and grace of Lee's fight sequences. That's because, half the time, the camera was too busy bouncing around the action that I couldn't really tell if I was watching Li or a stunt double.
Whereas Chinese Connection was filled with classic sequences, (such as the "No Dogs or Chinese Allowed" and nunchaku fight sequences), Fist of Legend has few. In fact, I can only count two real positives in Fist of Legend. One is the development of the romantic subplot, which felt a bit awkward and rushed in Chinese Connection. Two, the fight between Chen Zhen and a Japanese sensei, who teaches Chen some important philosophies about fighting, is easily the best sequence in the film. This fight is done with class, style and wonderful dialogue.
The rest of Fist of Legend is "Chinese Connection lite" with a less violent, more passive hero and storyline. It's as if the filmmakers here were trying to be "nicer" about the feud between the Chinese and Japanese. Maybe this is the way the story is meant to be told, (I understand this is based on a true story). But from a cinematic point of view, Chinese Connection clearly had greater resonance and power, especially in its ending when Chen has to face the consequences of his violent rampage. My guess is that Chinese Connection will be remembered far more than its remake. And deservedly so.
Force: Five (1981)
Entertaining martial-arts film with cool premise
This seemingly low-budget film is among my favorite martial-arts films of all time even though the plot is a shameless copy of "Enter the Dragon"----minus Dragon's production values. You have the leader of a cult on his own island leading hundreds of followers. At the island, the daughter of a senator is among the followers and Joe Lewis is recruited to get her out. To do that, he enlists the help of five colleagues.
I think what makes this movie stand above most martial arts films is that you have a charismatic group of martial artists working as a team when they infiltrate the bad guy's island. Director Robert Clouse, who also directed Enter the Dragon, really played up the "team" factor and I think that's the element that makes the film work.
The actors aren't anything extraordinary, but anyone looking for Brandos or Oliviers here deserve what they get. I was surprised this was only one of two movies Joe Lewis ever made. I certainly thought he had the look and personality to carry a few more martial-arts films, but hey.
Richard Norton, who played Ezekial, went on to great success in the straight-to-video world. A charismatic performer, he made a few pretty entertaining martial arts films over the years, some with fellow martial-artist Cynthia Rothrock.
My favorite of the team was Sonny Barnes, who plays the cheesily named "Lockjaw". Barnes never really did much else after this, except for a Michael Jackson & Paul McCartney music video, which is a shame because I really enjoyed him in this.
You can tell the budget went to the famous martial-artists in its cast because the locales and everything else in the film looks cheap.
Aside from Lewis and Norton, you also have Benny "The Jet" Urquidez in the cast, and Master Bong Soo Han, who played the villain. Some martial-arts fans will recognize Han as Billy Jack's partner in "Trial of Billy Jack" during the climatic fight scene.
As for the fight scenes, many of them are really good. Clouse takes full advantage of the fact he has an A-Team of martial-artists as stars and shows off their skills many times throughout the film, (even though most of the time they are fighting what are obviously a bunch of wannabe extras). Some of the stunts work, others bomb, but in the end, I really liked the movie. I also really liked the catchy title theme by William Goldstein. Some of my buddies think it's cheesy as hell, but I get a kick out of it.
I wonder if Quentin Tarantino had this film in mind when wrote dialogue for "Pulp Fiction". In that film, Uma Thurman's character, Mia, said she starred in a pilot called, "Fox Force Five".
Anyway, this is enjoyable for fans of the genre. The team factor makes all the difference, and there seemed to be potential here for sequels since I really enjoyed watching the cast work together.
A must-see film for everyone
There have been several times that people have been in my house on a late night and I have basically made them watch this film. Nobody I know has walked away disappointed. I warn them early on, this is just really funky 1960s entertainment. You gotta see this.
"What's it about?" they ask.
"Sex, drugs and rock n' roll," I reply.
It's no wonder that Mike Myers had Heather Graham watch this before they started work on Austin Powers 2: The Spy Who Shagged Me.
I first saw this in the early 90s when I was about 17 years old. At the time, it was a kind of "so bad, it's good" kinda film. But years later, the movie has grown on me and now I just plain love it as a camp classic.
First of all, there's a lot of quotable dialogue. All you have to do is check out the "Memorable Quotes" section of this movie and you'll find a small sampling.
Second, the film has one of my all time favorite characters, Ronnie "Z-Man" Barzell, played with a flourish and relish by John LaZar. He speaks beautifully and energetically with a penchant for speaking in old English, and he also throws some of the most interesting, not to mention fun looking, parties ever put on celluloid.
But the movie is not without some other cool characters. I also loved Cynthia Myers as Casey Anderson, who is easily one of the most beautiful girls I've ever seen. She gives her character an innocence that is easy to relate to.
My other favorite character is Lance, played by Michael Blodgett. Lance is a totally repulsive character in the way he treats people, but he's also funny in a poor taste kind of way.
Lance's date: "But I gave $1,200 last week!" Lance: "I want to twelve THOUSAND dollars, baby."
Whatever the movie is or isn't, it holds your attention with its quick editing, shameless nudity, party scenes and some memorable characters. I also dig the soundtrack, which is largely comprised of songs by Strawberry Alarm Clock, who is also in the film. They also sing their big hit, "Incense and Peppermints", which, not surprisingly, made it into the first Austin Powers movie and its soundtrack.
The movie is a lot of fun, though admittedly not for all tastes. I've seen this movie with guys and girls, and everyone who has seen has loved it in one way or other. Highly recommended movie.
Down and Outing (1961)
It's been said that the classic Tom & Jerry cartoons, the ones everyone loves by Hanna-Barbera and Fred Quimby, were violent. Sure, there was a great deal of violence but it was always done with style and an uncanny penchant for humor. Classic T&J is my all-time favorite cartoon.
But these psychedelic, early 1960s adventures are a different story. The violence turns unpleasant, and the epitome of these strange hybrid of Tom & Jerry is this episode: Down & Outing.
I hate absolutely loathed Tom's owner, who would turn beet red whenever Tom screwed up and went absolutely ballistic on Tom, smashing him over the head with a plethora of foreign objects. I'm not one of these ultra-PC types that can't stomach violence. But this version of T & J ranks up high as some of the most unnerving pieces of "entertainment" I've ever seen.
I like psychedelic media, but somehow it didn't work here. And if the violence, done in poor taste, was bad enough, wait until you hear the music. Again, it's just plain weird, like a bad hangover.
Stick to classic Tom & Jerry.
Get Carter (2000)
A great effort and underrated film
Deservedly or not, Stallone has been getting kicked in the teeth since his action fare has not been up to part with his classic works, but Get Carter is actually a really entertaining, stylishly done film.
Sylvester Stallone turns in a very effective performance as an over-the-hill enforcer. He delivers his dialogue impeccably, and we get the sense that Carter is a real person who is hurting and filled with regret about not patching things up with his brother. To make things worse for Carter, nobody cares that he's trying to make things right. That automatically made me want to root for Carter because there's nothing like putting the good guy in a situation where good guys and bad guys are discouraging him from finding out the truth. But he keeps on plowing through.
Stallone is also surrounded by a very effective cast. John C. McGinley as Con McCarty is probably one of my favorites, "I'm like a broken f*ckin' record. If you don't care of business, the business will take care of you. The business will take care of you. THE BUSINESS WILL TAKE CARE OF YOU."
Mickey Rourke, who has aged so badly and makes a perfect sleazebag, also turns in one of his better performances in a while. At first, he seems like the quintessential bad guy. Cocky, shady, and completely repulsive. But Rourke makes the character appear to have some kind of gray area.
Alan Cumming plays Jeremy like Alan Cumming, a smiling, effete, "scaredy cat" who can't hide his fright whenever Carter even looks at him.
Jeremy: Ok, scary man...
Carter (grinning): I scare you?
It's this kind of interaction, tough aura and charisma that I really miss in Stallone's more recent films. Sure, there are a few obligatory fight scenes where Carter has to beat the crap out of some low level thugs, but it's all in fun. And it's done with style, which is always important in a movie like this. Director Stephen Kay infuses the film with really cool music, camera work and a real noir feel.
Some people will whine that this is a matter of style over substance. This is an action film, people. If you want some substance to go with your style, rent The Godfather, or Psycho, or Last Tango In Paris. Go to the drama section of the video store. You don't rent movies like Get Carter, The Rock, Rambo: First Blood Part II, or latter day Bond movies for grand substance.
About the only thing I didn't like about Get Carter, which admittedly is a big let down, is that the fate of one of the major characters is unknown. I'm not sure what Kay was trying to accomplish by leaving this character's fate to our imagination, but the idea was a misfire. The epilogue also seemed a bit too sudden, but by this point, I had enjoyed the time I spent with Get Carter and liked it enough to buy it on DVD.
As a final note, this is not a typical slambang action film with explosions going off every five minutes. If you liked Payback with Mel Gibson---a kind of stylish, noir, toned-down action film---then my guess is that you'd enjoy Get Carter.
Quite simply: Awesome
As the movie prepared to open to audiences, I only had one objective. I wanted to see how James Cameron recreated the disastrous sinking like never before. There had been Titanic movies before, which were very good, but this was the first time technology would make the sinking look real and as accurate as possible. Cameron had tons of research and actual scientific knowledge available to him to tell the story and how it happened. We know now, for example, that the Titanic broke in two---a fact that was not yet known in the 1950s when two Titanic movies were released. My feeling on Cameron's movie was: I just want to see how he recreated the disaster.
What I found was a pleasant surprise. More than a special effects success, I was drawn in by the fictitious story of Jack and Rose. Iconoclast viewers brushed off the romantic story like a flake on a blue suit, but it struck me differently. I thought about the totality of the 1500 lives that Jack and Rose represented. I thought about how many couples that really loved each other, like Jack and Rose did, that perished in freezing waters. I thought about the terror that must have possessed so many as they waited to die in the freezing darkness.
The movie was powerfully realized. And although there were no Oliviers or Brandos in the cast, the acting was realistic and solid enough to invoke empathy for all of the characters. It may not be the "guy" thing to say, but I have to admit to choking a bit when Titanic angled, ready to sink to its destiny, and watching the hundreds of passengers desperately cling to their last moments as best as possible. Never have I seen a movie create despair so tangibly.
I've always been a Titanic buff. I don't know why, but I know that, for me, Titanic's story always held a certain mystique and sense of awe . And this was years and years before Cameron's movie hit the big time. For me, the movie remains a moving, triumphant experience. I can't help but feel Cameron captured my perception of the Titanic mystique and put it on film for all to see. Let the magic sweep you away to a time and ship long gone...
Billy Jack (1971)
Unlike anything I've ever seen
I sat down recently with my mom to watch Billy Jack. She had bought it as a sort of nostalgic gift for my dad, her high school sweetheart and a martial arts enthusiast that grew up during the 60s and 70s. Over the years, I've flipped through my dad's old martial arts magazines. Billy Jack was on several of those covers, but I'd never seen the movie.
My mom laughed at the memory as I sat down to watch it. I was mesmerized from the second the song "One Tin Soldier" started. I was mesmerized by what I was watching. Sure, there was martial arts action sprinkled throughout, but I was intrigued by the story and the way Tom Laughlin presented two sides, that of establishment and anti-establishment. The story made me think about my values.
It's too bad that some people here seem to be getting off on kicking the movie around. I'm a movie buff that can appreciate Star Wars, James Bond and Indiana Jones as much as Cabaret, Alice Doesn't Live Here Anymore and The Limey. Yet, I found qualities in Billy Jack that I don't remember seeing in any action film. The characters are authentic and they aren't totally good or totally bad, and while that is a quality in some movies, (i.e. Brando's "One Eyed Jacks"), I was surprised to find myself sympathizing with some of the establishment characters like the deputy whose daughter is pregnant. It made me relate to characters on a more emotional level that is difficult to describe.
Usually, I have a pretty good eye for bad acting---a popular theme for people who are bashing this particular film. However, I don't remember anything that I saw as flat out bad acting. Because the performances seemed so natural to me, I felt like I was watching real people and that only added to the authentic feel of the movie.
Billy Jack isn't your typical martial arts fare. And believe me, I've seen plenty of them. I'd say it's more of a period piece on the early 70s and the cultural movement of the day. It inspired me to think about pacifism, how it's not the answer to everything, and how sometimes, backed into a corner, you just have to fight back.
Superman III (1983)
Reeve makes yet another strong showing
Superman III is among the better black sheep super hero movie sequels.
At has been mentioned many time, having Superman sharing the lead with Richard Pryor was just an excuse to cash in on Pryor's popularity and his desire to star in a Superman movie. Therefore, the story idea in general is definitely awkward and a misfire. But, the script, production values and good performances make the story work better than it should have.
First of all, Christopher Reeve is yet again on target as Superman and Clark Kent. He looks great physically as the Man of Steel and gives the most mature portrayal in the series. Clark is still a bumbling reporter, but Kent's mild-mannered ways flow more smoothly than ever before. Superman is written a bit more cynically in this movie, (i.e. "If I had a nickel for everytime a little kid asked me..."), which was a so-so decision. At the same time, it's refreshing to see Superman not smiling all the time. Watching him jump into the drama with furrowed eyebrows and ordering people around when a chemical plant is about to permeate the eastern U.S. is definitely cool.
In addition, Reeve plays a frightening evil Superman during some of the film's more interesting segments. In short, nobody, to this day, has embodied a superhero more effectively than Reeve.
Second, the Smallville sequences are marvelously well done and are probably the best written moments of the film.
Third, the supporting cast fill their roles nicely. Now that "Smallville" has proven a great show, it's cool to see Annette O'Toole, who will eventually play Mrs. Kent in "Smallville", playing Lana Lang in this movie. Richard Pryor is fun to watch and he also made me laugh. True, his presence in the film was seemingly out of place, but he still won me over.
The regulars---Lois Lane, Perry White and Jimmy Olsen---are welcome as the returning trio in the Daily Planet. My main complaint is that I would've preferred to see Jimmy grow up a little since this is the third film.
Fourth, although the script lacked the epic feel of the first two films, the dialogue accomplished what it wanted to and the flying effects never looked better.
As a side note, the other cool thing about this movie is that it correctly predicted the domination of computers years before it proved true.
About the one thing that really sticks out badly in this movie is the lack of a worthy Supervillain. They should've brought in Brainiac or Metallo, who are some of Superman's cooler enemies in the comics.
I love Robert Vaughn, but his Ross Webster was too straight for the main villain in a superhero movie. For a main villain, he should've been written with more eccentric qualities, ala Lex Luthor. The supercomputer was not bad, but it would've worked better as a secondary villain or obstacle.
All in all, SIII is flawed, but entertaining in its own right and is best viewed when not comparing it to its predecessors. I'll take Superman III over most of the Batman films, except maybe Batman Returns.
Star Trek: Nemesis (2002)
Worth watching, but undeniably running on fumes
Hours removed from having seen the movie, I can say that many of the critics are right, but some of them have made their points WAY too strongly. Some of the criticisms have even gone so far as being mean. Even Roger Ebert, who I thought was dead on in his reviews of Trek's 4, 5, 7, 8 and 9, went overboard here.
Personally, I thought Nemesis was a decent Trek outing. Eons better than Generations or the bland Insurrection, (which gets my vote for worst Trek film), but not as good as First Contact.
Patrick Stewart, as always, is very professional and elevates much of the material. Jonathan Frakes, who I always felt was underused, gets a chance to figure a bit more prominently in the action than usual. Brent Spiner as Data, who I felt was grossly overused in the past, is actually not overbearing here. When I heard Data has yet another "cute" moment in this film, I braced for the worst. But when he broke out singing, it wasn't bad at all. In particular, I was also glad to see Marina Sirtis as Counselor Troi get some more screen time. Sirtis was wonderfully effective in her small role, showing a lot of convincing emotions. All the other regs get very little to do, but that's no big surprise.
I didn't consider Tom Hardy's Shinzon to rank with the best of Trek's villains. While no antagonist will probably ever live up to Ricardo Montalban's Khan, there have still been some great villains in the Trek film franchise, particularly Christopher Plummer as the eye-patched General Chang. I wouldn't rank Shinzon anywhere near Khan or Chang.
As a Trek fan who loved the original series, and the Next Generation (but wasn't grabbed by the subsequent spin-offs), I enjoyed the opening moments at the wedding. I found criticisms of these opening scenes to be unfair. I could not find anything particularly wrong with them.
Critics, however, rightly criticized the middle of the film as being a bit too slow going. During one scene where Picard and Shinzon are talking, I found myself daydreaming about other things. However, the space battle came along soon enough, providing much needed action. Unfortunately, the film's slow-moving earlier scenes affect the space battle. Because some earlier scenes were uninteresting, it takes a bit of the edge of the climax excitement. The epilogue, though good overall, feels too rushed for my liking.
The movie also has this out-of-gas feel throughout. It's no secret to me, however, because as a fan, I believe the Star Trek shows have been running on fumes for years. Though I don't believe it warrants the end of the Trek franchise, it most definitely calls for new creative involvement. Producer Rick Berman, who took over for Trek creator Gene Roddenberry, would be wise to pass the baton or bring better talent to the table. Former producer Harve Bennett worked wonders for the franchise when he rejuvenated series interest with Wrath of Khan, Search for Spock and the Voyage Home, all wonderful movies filled with a lot of adventure and heart. The difference between Bennett's films and Berman's is that Bennett's took more risks, and the results speak for themselves.
To be fair to Berman, the current team brought us First Contact, so why they've come up short with every other Next Generation film is beyond me.
In the end, Nemesis is a decent Trek entry that is better than the Insurrections of the series, but falls short of achieving the glories of The Wrath of Khan, Voyage Home, First Contact or even the highly underrated Search For Spock. Unfortunately, I don't think the movie will win the franchise any new fans. If you've never seen a Trek film, I probably would not start with this one.
Where to begin?
There's no denying this film failed to meet most people's expectations, including my own. Sitting in the theater, I had a lump in my throat as the 20th Century Fox theme lashed out and the saga's classic intro and thunderous John Williams score shook the theater. Everyone was excited. The first doubts hit me not even a five minutes into the film. As soon as I saw that alien, Nute Gunray, I thought, "Oh, no."
This had been a family occasion. I was stupid enough to "camp" overnight for the tickets. At first, I thought it would be like a Star Wars Woodstock. Hey, I'm a classic Gen X'r who was made to feel that I missed out on all the fun in the late 60s and 70s, stupid me. But I'm a quick learner and the feelings of brotherhood among the seemingly cool guys and girls I met were soon replaced by dog-eat-dog-desperation as the time to buy the tickets came closer. I nearly came to blows with a guy who accused me of cutting in line. It took several hours for me to realize that this whole idea of camping was ludicrous. Going to the theater at midnight and still standing in line at 3 p.m. in Miami weather, was an act of utter lunacy. I was dying to take a shower, get something to eat and go home. The only reason I stayed for the tickets was because I didn't want to have gone through all that crap to come home with no tickets, which was the only reason I went there to begin with.
Anyway, come opening day, my mom and dad, who were my age when the original Star Wars came out, came with me along with my sister, brother and several close friends. When it was all over, no one said a word and we all sort of looked at each other. Nobody wanted to be the first to say the movie, (a Star Wars movie no less)...kinda sucked. "It was about as good as [Return of the] Jedi," my friend said, trying to trick himself into thinking the movie wasn't that bad. And we all slinked out of the theater and into our cars as if we'd come out of a funeral.
I still think the movie's strengths lie in Liam Neeson and Ewan McGregor's performances. Natalie Portman's performance shifted between good and fair. Jake Lloyd would've come across better if they'd chopped his lines in half. The scene where he's shooting those villainous robots in the fighter looks, ridiculously, like he's playing video games.
I actually think the notorious Jar Jar Binks, clearly not the most embraced character, had the potential to be liked. Still, he was given WAY too much screen time and dialogue. All of his freaking out moments early on nearly sink the entire picture. You would think too much Jar Jar and not enough Darth Maul would sound like a recipe for disaster. It was also disappointing to see Terence Stamp as "Chancellor Valorum" wasted in a frivolous role that amounted to nothing.
Some aspects of the film were handled perfectly, however: R2-D2 is cleverly utilized throughout the picture. He's the constant reminder that this was a Star Wars movie despite Luke, Han and Leia's abscence. R2 meets C3PO was a great moment. Jabba's cameo. The lightsaber battle was superb as was the "Duel of the Fates" score by John Williams. The epilogue of the film was also excellent, but it was all too late.
The scenes on Tatoinne took forever. The outcome of the pod race was too predictable to devote as much screen time to it as they did. The space battle was not spectacular and felt like a carbon copy of the previous Star Wars battles. The fight between the Gungans and the Federation Droids was solid plot-wise, though visually spectacular.
Still, a few years have gone by. And as I look back, I still think the movie could've certainly used an edit, especially where Jar Jar and Anakin's dialogue are concerned. My feeling, then as now, is that the movie will eventually grow on people a bit once the trilogy is complete. To say the movie sucked is a bit unfair. Like pizza, there's no such thing as bad Star Wars though this one certainly lacked the overall mystique and sense of wonder of the originals. I've matured and already I look back at this film with a twang of nostalgia, for the build-up more than anything. It was just nice to believe, for a little while, that Star Wars was back again.
Good, but overrated
Many here gone into depth about the similarities and differences between the book and the movie. I have not read the book, but I have seen the movie. Simply put, the Fellowship of the Ring is easily one of the most overrated films in recent times.
The movie has a lot going for it. Excellent actors delivering excellent performances. Mind-blowing production values, special effects, sets, music and locations. Yet, despite all of the film's virtues, the movie somehow still managed to bore me. It also seemed that there were too many "endings" that made the experience seem all the more long and tedious.
I remember watching this in the theater and thinking the ending was near when Frodo is stabbed. I checked my watch, saw only an hour had passed and concluded it was wishful thinking. The beginning of the movie lead me to believe I was in for a memorable movie-going experience. Certainly, it was a majestic and beautiful movie to look at. There's a lot going on up on the screen, yet I couldn't bring myself to care about what was on the screen. I was also at a loss at how a good friend of mine was able to see this in the theaters 7 times! I barely made it through my first. The nomination for Best Picture was a serious miscalculation.
As for the story, I was disappointed that for a movie that has wizards as central characters, we get very little magic. All we see is Gandalf light a few fire works, scare the crap out of Bilbo, lamely fight with Christopher Lee and scare off a big ass dragon with little panache. I hate to compare, but I think I'm being factual when I say that you can find more fascinating wizardry in any given Star Wars installment or in the Harry Potter films.
Still, the movie had some wonderful moments. Ian McKellan, John Rhys-Davis and Christopher Lee are all fun to watch. In fact, the entire cast is first-rate. The scenes in the dungeons with all the special effects and swordplay were exciting and fun, and it was here that I thought the movie's pace would skyrocket, but that was not completely the case. It's the only movie that I can think of where virtually everything is perfect, except the pacing. Unfortunately, pacing counts for a lot.
Despite the drawbacks, I still find myself occasionally revisiting Middle-Earth. Perhaps the movie grows on you? Hopefully, it will, but when a movie of this magnitude fails to grab me instantly the way Star Wars, Harry Potter, the Godfather and a lot of the great films did, something is wrong.
Star Trek: Generations (1994)
Could've been way more
Some people really like this movie, but I think it had the potential to be way bigger, and way better. As it is, the movie is at best entertaining and at its worst, almost indifferent to the original cast. As a Star Trek fan, the movie represents a series of missed opportunities and a small movie with the promise of a huge blockbuster. Sadly, that wasn't to be.
The storyline involving the Nexus is filled with plotholes and contradictions, proving the writers were rushed during production and sparing the movie the attention it deserved. For example, the villain Soran is on the planet and explains that he's destroying the solar system because it's the only way to get into the Nexus, an energy ribbon in space that envelopes everyone in its path with unadulterated joy. Yet, he was in the Nexus earlier in the film precisely because his ship flew into it.
Another big plot hole, and this one contains spoilers: Why does Picard go back to the point in time when he does, putting himself at risk all over again? Had he gone back further back into the movie, he could've simply stuck Soran in jail. But then you wouldn't have much of a movie. And the fact that I can so easily point out this enormous plot hole should speak volumes about how poorly thought out this story was.
The one thing the movie has going for it is the acting. Patrick Stewart and Malcolm McDowell are fun to watch and give their roles a very nice variety of emotions. Brent Spiner as Data, who went on to become an increasingly annoying character in the subsequent movies, gives some nice comedic timing. William Shatner is brought to pass the torch, but that was essentially all he did aside from showing who really is the best captain. He delivers his best performance as Kirk since The Search for Spock.
In the end, I came away feeling that the movie was rather empty.
The following is a HUGE SPOILER if you don't know a thing about the movie, but common knowledge for Trek fans:
The destruction of the Enterprise is the movie's strongest moment, giving the supporting cast the opportunity to act a little bit. But in the end, the loss of the ship was merely shrugged off. A far cry from the glorious end of the original Enterprise in III.
Kirk couldn't have a more inappropriate death. Personally, I would've preferred Kirk die on the Enterprise-B or D. As it is, one has to give credit to Shatner for taking a lackluster death scene and turning it into something memorable.